Keeping Kids Safe at Camp
How sex offenders infiltrate church ministries

Sometimes our best ministry activities attract the wrong people. Church summer camp, for instance, is often the highlight of a church's summer ministry. Sadly, sex offenders know this too. According to John McLaughlin, an officer with the police department of Keene, New Hampshire, offenders may target and use activities common to children and youth ministries to find their next victims. For churches during the summer months, this can mean camps, Vacation Bible School, and other children's programs.

In a recent webinar by Safe Hiring Solutions, McLaughlin described how child sex offenders select, seduce, maintain, and dump their victims. Here are tips that every church leader (and parent) should know for keeping kids safe from sexual abuse.

When offenders are selecting victims, they look for opportunities where children will be wearing limited clothing, changing clothes (such as in swimming), available for one-on-one contact with adults, and staying overnight, said McLaughlin. Offenders also try to identify who the most vulnerable children are, such as children with bad home lives or who aren't fitting in at school, and they seek to build trust and respect through a courting-like seduction phase.

Many churches take their children and youth to camps in the summer and may or may not know the counselors and other camp workers well. Summer camp could, unfortunately, be a perfect opportunity for offenders: children wear skimpier summer clothes, swim, change, and sleep over with adult chaperones. Additionally, adults spend lots of time with small groups of children and may even have one-on-one time with them. Counselors at camp also become privy to information identifying vulnerable children as they have in-depth conversations with children over the time at camp.

While offenders often seek out long-term relationships with children, according to McLaughlin, another type of offender lurks: the Seducer. Seducers focus on short-term manipulation strategies. For example, McLaughlin told about a man who walked into the locker room at a local pool and convinced the children in the locker room that he worked there and needed to give them each a physical exam. Other Seducers will find ways to "accidentally" brush up against children inappropriately. Summer camp may provide many opportunities for these manipulation strategies.

Is your church screening volunteers before sending kids off to camp and in your children's ministry at church? Do you spell out clear rules and policies for relationships between adults and children? Post a comment and tell us what your church does so we can learn from each other.

For more on how to protect children at your church, check out these resources:

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

New York

June 14, 2012  1:44am

Thank you for this informative post.There should be enough security for kids in the camp.This article highlighted this important issue which is very necessary.

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August 10, 2011  3:35pm

I see the urgent need to implement a safety program and I'm trying to get one up and running at our fellowship... but it's as hard as pulling teeth. However, because I know it's a 911 situation, I will continue on until I get the majority of our people on board.

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August 02, 2011  12:45pm

We use a video training session that all children/youth workers and assistants of any kind must attend every second year. - Background checks are required. - All workers must be members in good standing in the church. If someone has been attending regularly they may work with a member but not teach or be alone with a child. - Two people are required in nurseries (never 2 men alone). - Partial glass has been installed on all classrooms. - During youth activities, washroom doors are propped open. - Attendance records are kept for leaders as well as children to protect against false accusations.

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July 26, 2011  10:59am

Yea, we recently upgraded/revamped our policy to tighten it up. I think the days of just doing a background check are over. We have found that is not nearly enough. But adding steps that are manageable as well as grace-filled is a tough task!

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